Venice, the Jews, and Italian Culture: Historical Eras and Cultural Representations: A Homecoming

June 17-20, 2007

Hosted by the Department of European and Postcolonial Studies, University of Venice Ca'Foscari Held at the Aula Diddatica in the Ghetto of Venice

In 2006 we participated in a seminar that created a magnificent conference sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which included interdisciplinary papers, discussions, lectures, and photographic journeys. We were eager to build on those weeks of reading and discussion by returning to Venice and the Jewish Ghetto this summer, to think through together how our lives and work have been affected by our experience.

The two-day conference was designed to offer a forum for participants to share and learn from how last summer's institute informed, and shaped our thinking, teaching, and lives during this last year. It was our desire to give voice to the significant contributions of old and new participants and to provide an opportunity for continuing conversations, scholarship, and collegiality.

2007 Homecoming Conference Minutes by Robin Russin

The first day (June 18) Marina Karem spoke about the image of the Jew in art from the end of the Cinquecento and into the Seicento, including Venetian/Italian influence on Albrecht Durer and vice versa. Maria Esformes gave us another view of the diasporic experience with a look at the vanished community in Salonika, which has many interesting parallels as well as differences with the Venetian experience. Our new member, Veronese expatriate Lisa Calevi, gave a really wonderful talk about Sukkot panels from the first emancipation, some of which are right there in the Ghetto museum. Murray Baumgarten finished the day with Dickens in Venice, the wonder of which literally left Charles Dickens breathlessly incapable of description, and then with another look at Leone Modena as autobiographer.

The next day (June 19) Shaul Bassi went deeply into how Shylock reflected and affected views of the Jew as body and as "body politic," from the Apostle Paul's "circumcision of the heart" to modern images of a weirdly anti-semitic Count Chocula. Gabriele Mancuso, who is so smart he should package it and sell it, showed us some original research he's been doing on "lower class" music of the Ghetto, based on a unique Judaeo-Portuguese MS he discovered of songs by a local Jewish minstrel for hire. Shirley Kagan then led us through her process of directing a production of Pinter's Betrayal, whose central scene is set in Venice. And I gassed on way too long about the subtextual meanings and uses of Venice as a location in film (I'm writing up something more detailed, hopefully for the website and maybe for a book, since I got some encouragement in that direction).

The afternoons we spent plotting a possible future for a new non-profit institute that would continue our work in Venice, with the help of another new member and, luckily, attorney Frances Levine, who had us over for meals at her place near Santa Maria Formosa. Marina Karem also hosted us at her place a block from the Rialto. The ideas and work we did included more or less coming up with a mission statement in preparation for going after grants to set up a more permanent and expansive presence there.

Text files are in .PDF format and can be read in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Audio files are MP3s and can be heard using Adobe Flash Player.


Shaul Bassi: "Hath Not a Jew Eyes?" Shylock's Body Politic

Murray Baumgarten: "What new happens to me:" Leone Modena, Herman Broder, and the Construction of Modern Jewish Identity

Sheila Baumgarten

Lisa Calevi: Season of Joy: Venetian Sukkah Panels in the Age of the First Emancipation

Shirley Kagan: Venice the Menace: The City in Harold Pinter's Betrayal

Marina Karem: Venice and the Jews: A Reflection in the Visual Arts

Frances Klein-Levine

Gabriele Mancuso

Maria Esformes

Robin Russin: Venice at the Movies